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A Story of Children and Film | reviews, news & interviews

A Story of Children and Film

A Story of Children and Film

Impressionistic meditations on a theme, presented by Mark Cousins with great verve

None of the colour of the real thing: poster image for Mark Cousins' 'A Story of Children and Film'

Every cinephile is going to have a personal perspective on Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children and Film, an engrossing, affectionate, and frequently revelatory look over how aspects of childhood, and children, have been portrayed on screen over more than half a century, from almost every cinematic tradition that we’ve heard of – or, rather more often, that we haven’t heard of.

That cinephile issue is going to revolve itself around whether any of his or her personal favourites have been left out of Cousins’ final cut. So I’ll get my own ones out of the way, directly – the amazing 24 Eyes from Japanese director Keisuke Kinoshita is missing, for starters, with Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali also absent without leave. But what’s to complain about when A Story of Children… introduces us to some truly remarkable films that have been brought in from the celluloid cold, in every sense, with particular emphasis on Japan, and a more than everyday dose of Iranian cinema as well?

Any stubborness has been reenforced in spades with a new BFI season on the subject of children and film

Cousins finished his colossal The Story of Film: An Odyssey three years ago, achieving an overview of the subject in more than 15 hours of distinctive documentary. He’s carried over some of that work's trademark elements into this new film, most notably that off-screen voiceover. It was an element that didn’t go down great with everyone, it has to be said, but if viewers are put off by the director’s gentle Irish lilt, then they were probably looking for the wrong thing in the first place.

The Story of Film had a broadly historical structure behind it, though that didn’t stop Cousins jumping (very) freely across continents and eras. By his own account, it was a completely exhausting endeavour, and A Story of Children… was always intended to be something smaller and more personal. It opens with, and returns to throughout the film, footage of his nephew and niece Ben and Laura, aged 10 and 11, playing with a marble-run in Cousins’ Edinburgh apartment. It’s a static camera shot, in which the children’s faces (not to mention their grandmother’s legs as well when they come into view, in a lovely link to Tom and Jerry) move in and out of frame.

They’re showing some of the broader emotions that we sometimes associate with children and film – shyness, showing-off and stroppiness, to begin with – and Cousins goes on to link these associations with the almost 50 films he considers around such themes. Then he goes into a riff on the hospital in Saint Remy in France (image recreated, right), where in 1889 Van Gogh convalesced, a link that is somewhat more solipsistic.

The main impression it leaves is that amazing thing, the sheer wonder of seeing all these images up on the screen; that was clearly Cousins’ own childhood movie memory, and he recreates it here. No wonder that his first feature, The First Movie, was about exactly that experience. 

A Story of Children… is an eclectic piece, and it somehow leaves the impression that Cousins’ own presenting voice, however quiet its intonations are, is on the stroppy side, not unlike that of some of his subjects. If that’s the case, it’s a stroppiness that has more than paid off over the years, not least for the sheer determination that enabled A Story of Film to be made. (Mark Cousins, pictured below left).

Any stubborness has been reenforced in spades with a new BFI season on the subject of children and film, Mark Cousins Presents: The Cinema of Childhood, a selection of 17 works from around the world, drawn from those featured in the documentary, that will be touring the country over the next year through the auspices of that organization. From Iran, there are jewels by Mohammad-Ali Talebi, who will be presenting some of the programme in the UK, like his Willow and Wind, and Bag of Rice and The Boot. The embattled Iranian director Jafar Panahi, to whom Cousins' film is dedicated, is there with The White Balloon – and balloons, white or red, are a key element of fascination in A Story of Children…

It’s a moveable feast. Watch out for the Albanian drama Tomka and his Friends, a 1977 film from D. Xhanfise Keko (in a spanking new print, to boot – when was the last time a classic Albanian film made it to a screen near you?); Palle Alone in the World from 1949, Denmark; and Ten Minutes Older from the great Latvian documentarist Herz Frank from 1978, a single close-up, in which time passes exactly as the film time does. Some great choices, plenty of revelations. Even if not exactly the ones each individual cinephile might have made for him- or herself. But that's the achievement of Mark Cousins, auteur programmer.

A Story of Children and Film touring the UK, 'Mark Cousins Presents: The Cinema of Childhood' at the BFI

Overleaf, watch the trailer for A Story of Children and Film:

He’s carried over some trademark elements into this new film, most notably that distinctive off-screen voiceover


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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